Sound Master II. (sound card) (Evaluation)
by Eddie Huffman
Setting for the internal speaker that comes in your computer makes about as much sense as settling for an AM radio in a new car. Both get the job done up to a point, but by settling for them, you're missing out on a lot. Besides, like an AM radio in a car, a computer's internal speaker sounds terrible.
So you decide to upgrade. But which custom sound system will you choose for your computer? AdLib? Sound Blaster? Well, how about a sound card that covers those bases and more at a list price only slightly higher than its competitors? The Covox Sound Master II emulates the most popular sound cards and offers several other worthwhile features. It comes packaged with hardware and software that allows you to channel your internal speaker's sounds through the sound card, issue voice commands, and link your MIDI keyboard directly to the card for compositional interaction.
All of these features won't appeal to everyone, of course, and not all are accessible to everyone. For instance, you have to have an 80386 or higher processor to take advantage of both the Sound Blaster compatibility and the SMulator technology, which makes Sound Master II work with software that requires other sound cards. Beyond such limitations, though, lies dramatic sound improvement.
Simply running the internal speaker through the Sound Master II smooths out a lot of aggravating squawks and bleats. The dramatic difference comes with games and other sound-intensive software. Once plugged into an expansion slot, the card and its pair of blue mini-speakers transformed tinkly music and ragged jet whooshes (as heard through my internal speaker) into a majestic wall of sound. Both arcade games like Thunderstrike and adventure games like The Secret of Monkey Island benefited greatly from the upgrade.
And while digitized computer speech still leaves a lot to be desired compared to the real thing, Sound Master II told me everything I needed to hear, both when using its test programs and when using software like Super Solvers Spellbound!.
But why stop at digitized speech? Speak yourself, and tell your computer what to do. The software accompanying the Sound Master II allows you to issue voice commands to run macros. Say, "Give me a directory," and you'll get one, or you can use your imagination. I issued a James Brown-style "Hah!" to start my word processor.
Sound Master II also comes packaged with PC-LYRA, a basic music-composition program. In addition, you can record sounds to RAM or a hard disk and sample at a rate of 100 to 25,000 samples per second using the software that comes with the card, most of which is relatively easy to learn and use.
For all its positive attributes, Sound Master II isn't without its flaws. The cord for the speakers allows them to be placed only about a foot apart, a distance I found to be insufficient. Some of the software comes without a printed manual, requiring you to print one from a text file. And the printed manual you do get--a dual edition covering both the Sound Master II hardware/software package and the PC-LYRA program--is woefully inadequate. It has only a few vague illustrations, no clear overview of the features available, no index for the Sound Master II section, and no troubleshooting guide. I found it easier to put the software through its paces using trial and error than to plow through the book. When a company makes a product this good, I wish it would go all the way and give it a comparable manual.
Hardware and software both delivered, however, which matters more. My irritating internal speaker has now been tamed, and Sound Master II has opened a window to a broad world of sound. It's an excellent package, whether for games and music or for bossing your computer around.